Caring into the Void: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/caring-into-the-void/id1348004415
Hot Singles in Your Area — buy your copy here: https://unbound.com/books/hotsingles/
Void Merch: https://voidmerch.threadless.com/
Dive in Me
by Selena Chambers and Jesse Bullington
The girls were a gang of three: a triad, a triumvirate, or what have you. Like the Gorgons and Moirai before them, they never made a move or decision separately. So when Spring was missing from their usual hook-up spot in the kudzu-veiled lot behind the Hoggly Woggly one Saturday morning, the gang was thrown into a state of chaos.
“Where the fuck is she?”
“You don’t think she got busted last night, do you?”
Gina paused to consider this, because it was a real possibility. They had been in the alley behind the skating rink throwing bricks at streetlights until the girls were broken up by crescendoing sirens and red and blue illuminations. In such desperate if not rare instances, they would all separate and regroup later.
“Nah, if she got bagged, we’d hear about it right?”
Gina sat on a vine-cushioned log.
Gina pointed at the nearby pay phone. “You get a phone call, don’t you?”
“Uh, yeah, to call someone that can bail you out. She knows we can’t bail a dog out of the pound, much less her skanky bitch ass from jail.” Moira seemed pleased with this comparison and either ignored or didn’t notice Gina’s growing concern. Bullshitting nosy cops was one thing, and actually running from them not unheard of, but so far none of them had actually been caught.
“Okay, well, she’d call her house, then,” said Gina.
“If she’s not home, Hughes’ll know where she’s at.”
Gina dug in the cavernous pockets of her baggy jeans for a quarter as she picked up the pay phone with her other hand, so she didn’t see what was coating it until her fingers closed on cold, slimy slickness. She yelped and pulled her hand back, quickly looking around to make sure Moira hadn’t seen her chickenshit reaction before she took a better look at the nastiness tangled around the phone. The parking lot and pumps were mostly empty, and, turning her attention back to the now-dangling receiver, she saw dripping duckweed wrapped all around the black plastic phone. Wiping her hand on her jeans, Gina smiled—that wasn’t a bad gag, winding some shit around a phone. She would’ve used poison ivy, personally, and limited its use to the earpiece. That wouldn’t provoke the same immediate revulsion, but whatever dumbass picked it up would grind the ivy into their ear before they noticed what was up.
Tearing off the duckweed, she rang Spring’s house.
“Yeah?” Hughes sounded groggy. It was, after all, noon o’ clock, so Gina had either woke him up or caught him in the middle of his morning burn. He was Spring’s boyfriend, and was a lot older than the girls. He claimed to be sixteen, but Moira suspected he was really twenty-one, because he always had booze and, more favorably, weed. She could picture him in a shredded Pearl Jam shirt and Superman boxers, his stringy red hair screening his bloodshot eyes.
“Hughes! Where the fuck is Spring? She was supposed to meet us behind Hoggy Wogs.”
“I dunno…she was supposed to be crashing at your house.”
“No, she wasn’t,” said Gina. Moira motioned at her that she was going inside to get a soda.
“Look, she told me she was sleeping over with you lezzers, and y’all were hitting the sinks today. That’s all I know. Now fuck off.” The line went dead.
Gina walked into the store to find Moira flipping through an issue of CREEM.
“What’d he say?” she asked without looking up.
“God,” said Gina. “He’s so fucking gross.”
“Oh, I dunno. I think he’s cute. Kind of has a Layne Staley thing going, you know?” Moira turned the magazine around to show Gina an Alice in Chains spread to prove her case.
“I’m sure he’d cream himself to hear that, Moira.”
Moira frogged Gina in the arm. “Jesus, ow! Well, whatever, according to his stoned ass, Spring never came home last night, and is supposed to be hitting the sinks with us today.”
“We didn’t talk about swimming.”
“You think there was some mix-up, and she’s waiting for us at one of the holes?”
“Could be. I guess we could check out the usual suspects, if your brother will pick us up.”
“Fine. I’ll go call him.”
Gina had just dropped her last quarter in the phone when a long, distended shadow fell over the wall in front of her.
“Damn, but that is one sorry lookin’ bitch!” The familiar voice was right behind Gina, making her jump. “Don’t tell me your pimp lets you out of the crack house looking like that.”
“Where’ve you been?” asked Gina, trying not to let her relief show as she wiped her sweaty bangs from her forehead and turned to Spring. “We’ve been looking all over, and Hughes said—”
“Suicide Sinks. It took all night, but I found those bitches!” Spring offered up the jagged grin of a girl who had never been to the dentist and was in general a hot fucking mess. She was covered in sweat, XXL flannel and parachute jeans not being the breeziest summertime attire. Her fading Kool-Aid dye job shed splotches of color on her shoulders and the parking lot.
All the relief Gina felt at finding Spring curdled in her stomach. When the other two had talked about finding the fabled sinkholes, she had gone along with it, because of course she had, but the possibility of the place really existing, much less their discovering its location, had never seriously darkened her imagination.
“Who were you calling?” asked Spring.
“Dave.” When Spring wrinkled her nose, Gina said, “He sucks, but he’ll drive us anywhere we wanna go, so long as Moira’s with us. Unless Prince Charming in Chains got his license un-suspended?”
“Don’t matter,” said Spring. “We’re walking—this is top secret, for skanks’ eyes only.”
“Moira inside?” Gina nodded. “You got any smokes?”
Gina nodded again. “Yeah, I lifted some Dorals from my stepdad, but they have to last all weekend. See if you can lift a pack from inside, or Hey Mister that redneck.”
“That dude looks like a bitch—what kinda self-respecting good old boy drives a Kia? I’ll try my luck in the pigsty, and get Moira to buy some jerky. It’s a long walk to the Sinks from here; I’ve been running back here all fucking morning. And you Hey Mister that pussy anyway, you can’t have too many coffin nails, Gina, not before Suicide.”
Gina eyed Spring’s damp hair and clothes. Nobody knew where Suicide Sinks were, if they even existed, and all of the usual swimmable sinkholes were at least a twenty-minute drive away—no way Spring was running that route. Gina also wondered if it wasn’t just sweat from the balls-hot morning.
“Did you…You went swimming there last night?”
“I wouldn’t dive in without you and Moira! We’re all going in together.”
Great, Gina thought. Then Spring was gone, her heavy jeans swishing as she darted into the store.
Gina looked forlornly after her. It wasn’t even noon yet and was hotter than hell, the leaves of the kudzu on the gas station wall dripping in the still, muggy air. Walking anywhere in this heat sounded retarded, and the promise of a swim at the end actually made it worse, for a change.
Anything that makes you feel alive can’t be all that bad. This was the mantra that Gina used to justify all sorts of dubious adventures with Moira and Spring, the other two being decidedly less cautious than she when it came to, well, everything. Gina was the brains, and the other two were the balls not that she would ever voice such a sentiment, since they were also both a lot punchier than her. This plot, however, didn’t give her the same queasy-awesome thrill as smashing streetlights or boosting shitty jewelry from Claire’s, though the threat of police or pissed-off parents was a lot smaller. This plan filled her with dread. For the first hour, she smoked cig after cig, trying to come up with a plan on how to either talk them out of it or get herself out of it. She was just waiting for an opening, but Moira’s enthusiasm kept common sense out of the conversation as they followed Spring until the cracked sidewalks gave way to the long grass that bordered the old highway leading out of town.
“C’mon,” Moira said. “Tell us!”
“Fine,” Spring said. “But it’s nothing major. Just don’t tell Hughes, you know how he gets.”
Moira gave Gina a meaningful look. How he gets?
“When you bitches dipped out on me, I barely got away from the cops. Some Woodvillians were leaving the skate rink, and I bummed a lift with them. Couple of dirtbags and this spooky fat girl. They were going to hop a fence at some motel and go swimming, but, halfway there, Thick Girl mumbled something about Suicide Sinks. These goons knew where it was, and, even though they gave me a hard time, I talked ’em into taking me out there instead of hitting the motel pool. Those dirtbags took me right to it!”
“How do you know it was really Suicide?” said Moira. “And not some random redneck mud puddle?”
“I could feel it, right? Like, a sick sense.”
“Sixth,” said Gina. “Sixth sense.”
“Sick Sense sounds better,” said Moira. “That’d be a cool band name.”
Typical stupid Florida woods bordered the half-dead highway out there, with rotten old shotgun shacks set back in the pines. The houses were mostly abandoned, and what little traffic passed them on the road consisted of semis and company trucks for the chemical plant. At last, they reached a particular overgrown dirt road that looked the same as every other turnoff they’d passed—barred by barbwire and flanked by flapping No Trespassing signs stapled to trees. Spring glanced up and down the highway and, seeing the coast was clear, ducked under the wire and booked it down the grassy track. This was a familiar ritual, and Gina and Moira were right behind her, the triad not slowing until they were well out of sight of the highway, their clothes instantly sopping from the sprint.
“I heard Hawk Point was condemned,” said Gina once she’d caught her breath enough to light a cigarette. Talking about stuff with her friends always made it less creepy, more laughable.
“Huh?” Moira found a stick to break in half and toss back into the woods.
“I think this area was called Hawk Point,” said Gina.
“Sounds like an ancient Indian burial ground,” said Moira, then added. “Ba-chawk!”
“Shut up,” said Spring and Gina simultaneously.
Gina was secretly relieved to have Spring on her side. Usually she and Moira made a constant racket, even—especially—when they were doing something furtive.
“Hawk Point was one of the first suburbs this far out of town,” said Gina. “Quiet place to raise a family, good property values, and not too close to all the rednecks and black people.” This last she said in a hushed, scared old-white-lady voice. “But then something happened.”
“Dun dun dunh!” said Moira.
“You guys know how sinkholes—how they’ll just…” Gina gulped, the air thick in her throat. “Devour whatever they open up under. A whole house, yard and all, isn’t unheard of.”
“No shit,” said Moira, snatching Gina’s cigarette from where it languished between her fingers. “So?”
Gina scowled at Moira. “So, the fact is a sinkhole opened under every house in Hawk Point, every single one. At the same time. Middle of the night, when everyone was at home in bed, the ground just…swallowed them up. Houses, cars, playgrounds. Dog houses. Nobody got out. Geologically speaking, the incident was a phenomenon.”
The only sound was the girls’ jeans scratching against the grass that sprouted in the middle of the road and the droning of insects, and then Moira said, “I call bullshit, dude. No way a bunch of picket fencers got sucked into sinks without everybody in town knowing about it.”
“This was years and years ago,” said Gina. “And everyone does know about it. You saw the signs—‘No Trespassing’—the ground’s unstable.”
The dirt track they were walking joined a narrow paved road, but one so ancient the ragged blacktop was mostly hidden under countless generations of rotting vegetation.
“The whole place is fucked, and not just because of the sinks,” Gina continued as they veered onto this new path. “Before they got sunk, those entitled motherfuckers who lived here were so lazy that they poured oil and all their trash into the river rather than drive to the dump.”
“Yeah,” Spring said. “I asked Ms. Hannah about it. She said it was because it was close to the river and caverns that the ground was probably already eroded and too soft, or whatever, and the developers fucked it up with, uh, putting in a sewer thing or something.”
“Ha-ha, yeah, they pissed Earth off and she opened up and ate them all!” Moira goosed Spring, and snatched her hand back. “Damn, dude, you’re freezing! You sure you’re not sick, fever-dreamed all this shit up?”
Gina looked at the sweat beading off of Spring’s flushed face. She didn’t look sick, and they were all pretty sweaty. A raptor soared overhead and landed in a pine tree.
“I’d kill to be freezing right about now,” Spring said. “You must’ve been nipping from Hughes’s stash again, Moira, or maybe you got frostbite from fingering Gina’s frigid snatch.”
“Bleh! Anywho, I bet that shit is nasty,” said Moira. “The sinks, I mean, not your ’gina, Gina.
I’m sure you’re a very clean girl. Spotless, even.” Gina ignored them and took interest in the sky. Moira continued: “You’d think they’d have put up some other warning signs, or something.”
“Uh, you mean like all the signs we passed?”
Spring shook her head, then dramatically swept her arm to the side. “Or that one over there?”
“No fucking way,” Moira whispered. Then, substantially louder: “No fucking way!”
The ornamental boulder wore a mantle of kudzu vines, the thickly etched letters on its face outlined in moss. At its base, shredded warning signs mixed with the dead leaves like offerings at an altar. Moira did a victory pogo while Spring smugly watched Gina.
Hawk Point, it read.
Beyond the sign was a much more serious barricade than the wire they had ducked back on the highway, but the galvanized gate was built to keep out cars, not juvenile delinquents on foot. As soon as she landed on the age-warped blacktop on the far side of the gate, Gina felt her stomach twist up, like she was getting cramps. It seemed louder on this side, the bug noises echoing through the hollows, Moira’s braying voice ricocheting off the pines.
“Whatever happened out here, they were fucking with sacred ground,” said Gina, and almost meant it. Remembering Moira’s crack from before, she said.
“Ain’t there Miccosukee burial mounds around here?
Maybe we shouldn’t be fucking around here either.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be such a puss,” Moira said, sticking her tongue between her fingers in retort to the bird Gina was shooting her.
“It doesn’t look that bad,” Spring said once Moira and Gina had settled down. “You’ll see.”
They marched on. Spring retrieved a fallen branch to bat down the sticky banana spider webs that frequently blocked their path, and Moira scoured the ground for pine cones to kick. Gina continued to smoke and ruminate. As if Hawk Point’s history wasn’t disturbing enough, there was the reason everyone called this place Suicide Sinks. It wasn’t that people came here when they were Kurt-minded, but just that every once in a while, some kid would go missing, and, after several weeks of searching, they’d find him floating down the river thirty miles from anywhere he was supposed to be. Reports on these dumbasses would show they hadn’t been murdered or messed with, just drowned somehow, and eventually they figured out with maps or sonar or something that they all must have tried to dive the Suicide Sinks and failed. Like a lot of sinks, these were supposed to be connected by underwater caves.
And of course there were plenty of kids who never showed up in the river, or anywhere, period. Gina couldn’t stop imagining herself swimming into some bloated corpse’s arms and being drowned in its empty embrace…until the image became her and Moira and Spring floating lifelessly among all the other divers over waterlogged houses.
“Listen,” Gina said. “I don’t think I can dive with you, Spring.”
“Why?” Spring asked.
“I suck at diving, man. I can’t hold my breath for shit, and we’ve been doing all this walking and smoking and…” She hesitated. “And if you two dumbasses get in a jam, I can go for help.”
Moira began to splutter, but Spring held up her cigarette to Moira’s mouth. “Put a butt in it, Moira.”
Moira took the cig and puffed, winking at Gina through exhaled smoke.
Spring stared at Gina for awhile as they all continued walking.
“You don’t think we can handle it?” Spring’s voice was odd. Gina couldn’t tell if she was concerned or contemptible of the assumed doubt or what.
“I know you can hold your breath forever. You I’m not worried about—” Gina darted her eyes at Moira. “Moira probably could too. It’s just you don’t know what’s down there. No one does. Anyone who’s ever dived there has never come back. That doesn’t concern you?”
“Pfth. Tons of people do it. Those dumbasses from last night did it right in front of me, no problem. Anyone who doesn’t come back drowns because they were either too fucked up, or just bullshit swimmers.”
“What about that one dude,” asked Moira. “The pro diver, or whatever, they found in the river last summer?”
Spring cut Moira a hellish look, and Moira just shrugged and lit another smoke with the dying ember of the previous butt.
“He was probably bullshit, too. I am not bullshit, and I’m not afraid to dive.”
For the first time in their friendship, Spring seemed upset. Tears welled in her eyes. The intensity on her friend’s face made Gina uncomfortable. She knew swimming was Spring’s thing—everyone had a thing: Gina rocked math and the drums, and Moira was awesome at reconstructing clothes and doing hair. Spring was a killer swimmer, and a diver, too, but this…this emotion, this fear on Spring’s face, was totally out of character, and it creeped Gina out.
She had a notion, a fluttery feeling in her gut, that not just diving, but surviving, Suicide Sinks was so important to Spring that nothing, not a damn thing, could talk her out of it now. Their march had already gone too far to be deterred, and now Moira and Gina’s fates were tied into these stupid sinkholes, also.
The girls stopped walking, and the heaviness of the heat and the insect thrumming of the forest weighed down on them, palpable, relentless. Gina sighed it off and began to air guitar the opening bass riff to Nirvana’s “Dive.”
Moira giggled and put her arm around Spring as she began to sing an altered version of the chorus:
“Dive! Dive! Dive! Dive with me!”
Gina joined in, making Spring laugh and put her arm around Gina, who flinched. Moira had been right: Spring was cold, colder than Wakulla Springs in the middle of January, but, as with a dip in any winter spring, after the initial shock, you could barely feel the chill. Gina savored the coolness against her skin, and the girls sang the rest of their march down the abandoned road of the legendary housing development.
When the first house appeared, they all stopped and stared.
“So not all the houses got sunk, huh?” Moira looked over Spring’s head at Gina. “Told you that story was shit.”
Gina should have been relieved to see such irrefutable proof that all the stories about Hawk Point were bullshit, that of course a whole neighborhood didn’t fall into the earth. Yet the dilapidated, boarded-up ranch house failed to give any comfort whatsoever, the scaling paint on its face reminding her of a peeling poison-ivy rash. Gaunt cypress saplings poked out of the jungle where its front yard had been, and, as they came abreast with it, they saw a live oak had pitched through the side wall.
“If you knew, why didn’t you say?” Gina asked Spring.
She shrugged. “You were half-right, anyway, about them condemning the place. Ground must have been too soft to even bring in machinery to tear these wrecks down.”
“We are so going in there,” said Moira, already moving up the driveway when Spring grabbed her arm.
“After. First we do the sinks, then you can play house. C’mon,” said Spring, hooking Gina with her other cold-ass arm and dragging both girls away from the house.
Moira cackled, then pointed at another house that was coming into sight through the trees. “Dibs on that one. You bring housewarming swag, I might let your sorry asses come over for tea and croquet.”
“Then I get the next one,” said Gina, trying to force herself into the spirit of things. It had worked before—sometimes she just needed to push herself a little to find the fun. Soon enough, though, she regretted claiming an estate sight unseen.
At the end of the third driveway of Hawk Point, all that remained of the house were a few foundations poking up on the rim. They looked like the gravestones Gina had been too chickenshit to spray paint a few weeks ago. Beyond them, beneath them, the sink waited.
Unlike most sinkholes the girls swam in, there was little greenery flanking the sides of the pit, just red clay. It was roughly circular, maybe fifty feet across, and couldn’t be more than a ten-foot drop down to the water, but Gina felt dizzy looking over the broken driveway’s concrete lip. The water was crystal clear, and, at the right angle, you could see—way, way down—the house’s roof, with waterweed columns rising from its moldering shingles. Despite herself, Gina leaned the slightest bit further, looking for the cave that supposedly linked this sink to others in the area, and eventually the river, but the sheer walls of the pit were too dark to tell.
Two hands hit Gina in the small of her back, hard.
She stumbled forward but caught herself, and there was a desperate moment where her breath caught and her stomach lurched and her head went light, the toes of her boots rocking on the rough edge of the driveway, and she was going to balance herself, she was…
No. She was too scared to move, and, as if she were a helpless prisoner in her own body, she felt her weight shift, felt the driveway betray her, offering her up as a sacrifice as she toppled—.
Spring grabbed her shirt and jerked her backwards, and Gina collapsed onto the driveway. The sounds of Moira laughing and Spring cursing at Moira were muffled by the sudden ringing that filled Gina’s ears.
When she caught her breath, she faked a laugh, but even she could tell it sounded off and desperate. Another Doral didn’t help, but it did give her something to flick at Moira once she stopped shaking enough to properly aim it.
“Oh dude, what a fuckin’ waste!” Moira had side-stepped the missile, and stared forlornly down to where it had sizzled out in the sink. “How many more do we have?”
“Last one,” said Gina as Spring helped her up. “I could’ve cracked my head on the cement, you dumb broad.”
“I wasn’t really going to let you fall,” said Moira.
“We’ve all got to go in on our own,” said Spring, by way of arbitration. “But we’re all going in.”
“Man, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, there’s no way to get out,” said Gina, gesturing at the sink.
“Look how steep the sides are. You’d need a rope to climb out, and I don’t see any.”
“Huh.” Moira nodded. “There’s probably one tied on a tree or something. Let’s look around and see if we can find it.”
“We don’t need one,” said Spring, but accompanied Gina anyway as she took the left side and Moira went right, inspecting the oaks and elms that were near the rim. They reconvened on the far side, where the undergrowth was even thicker.
“No rope means no rope swing,” said Moira. “And no rope swing means bulllllllshit sink.”
“That’s probably why they call it Suicide,” said Gina. “You’d have to be self-harmy jumping into a sink you couldn’t get out of.”
“Oh, there’s a way out,” said Spring slyly. “A bunch of ’em, probably, but we only need one.”
“Get ready, then take a deep breath and follow me,” said Spring. When Gina took a step back from the sink, Spring grinned. “Don’t worry, I’m not pushing you in. I told you, we all go in on our own. But first, hold your breath on three. One. Two. Three.”
As soon as they all took in their lungfuls, Spring began plowing straight through the tangle of thin vines and spiky devil’s walking sticks. Moira let Gina push after her, more than happy to let them clear the path a bit, then followed. Her chest had only just begun to hurt when Moira straightened up from her bent walk through the undergrowth and gasped, Spring stepping aside so Gina could join them.
They stood on the bank of a second sink, one entirely enclosed by the nearly impenetrable push of greenery. It was much smaller than the first, with cypress knees jutting out of the gently sloping bank of black mud that angled down to its mirror-still surface. Instead of a nauseating depth, this sink looked to be barely a dozen feet deep and narrow, before it curved into algae-softened rock.
“Oh no,” said Gina. “Oh fuck no. Spring, there’s no way you can do this. No fucking way.”
“You held your breath the whole way,” said Spring.
“I was listening. And if a smokestack like you can do it, then—”
“Walking a few feet in the woods with my breath held is a lot fucking different than swimming through a cave! It’ll be dark down there; you won’t see where you’re going.”
“There’s a rope,” countered Spring, her bemusement at Gina’s reaction fermenting into something nastier. “It goes from one end to the other. You just grab a hold and follow it to the end.”
“And if you drop it? Or if it’s rotten and falls apart?”
“Then they find you in the river in a few weeks,” said Moira quietly. “Dude, I don’t think this is such a hot idea.”
“The guys I came out here with last night did it. Twice.” Spring crossed her arms. “And it was dark as shit, so they didn’t even have that going for them.
When you get to the end, the cave splits, and you’ll be able to see the right way to go from the light. Just drop the rope and kick your way out fast. Besides, there’s a spot about halfway through where the roof of the cave opens up and you can surface and breathe, then go the rest of the way.”
“Man, what?” For a change, Moira looked to Gina for support. “What if those dudes didn’t really swim it, but were pranking you somehow? Seeing if they could trick you into jumping in? You said it was dark, so maybe they tricked you, made it look like—”
“No,” said Gina, feeling like a total dumbass for not seeing it sooner. “No, she’s right. She knows.”
“Huh?” Moira glanced back and forth between her friends. “How can she be sure?”
“She’s sure because she already swam it,” said Gina, feeling sick to her stomach. She imagined Spring squirming blindly through sunken tunnels, her breath going bad in her chest, her fingers clinging to a slimy rope tethered to the cave walls. Stupid, stupid goddamn Spring. “Last night, when you came out here. Those guys swam it, so you swam it after them. That’s how you know.”
“Half-right, as usual,” said Spring smugly. “Those pussies who took me out here were too scared to get in, so I swam it myself.”
The woods were loud, and something small splashed back in the first sink. The girls looked at one another. Moira spoke first, her voice heavy with doubt.
“You said you were waiting for us. Why’d you…why didn’t you wait? Why’d you bullshit us about it?”
“One look at these sinks, and I knew Gina would have a heart attack if I tried it in front of her bitch ass, and that you’d be too scared to jump in, too. This way I made sure for us, for all of us, so we could come back and do it together without worrying.”
Moira chewed her lip, and Gina followed suit.
Spring had that weird frail look to her that had freaked Gina out so much before, as if maybe she wasn’t quite as badass as everybody assumed. Gina felt something rich and thick—an awareness—pushing through her, almost as if her blood was congealing in her veins. All this time Gina had been psyching herself out, letting a bunch of bullshit urban legends and her imagination harsh her calm as she played tough, when all along Spring was the one who was scared. Not just scared, goddamn petrified! And of what? That her closest friends wouldn’t think she was a badass unless she did something suicidally stupid?
Awareness turned to awakening, and Gina let it out, then, the wildness that only her friends could unlock in her, and the feeling of unbridled craziness was ecstatic. The undergrowth ripped at her clothes as she dashed back the way they’d come, the heat and humidity almost electric against her skin as she teetered on the edge of the first sink, almost tumbling in when she burst from the ivy and thorns.
Her flannel and boots came off in a rush, before she could chicken out, and then the bra she didn’t really need yet, but she left her black shirt on. Moira and Spring caught up, howling encouragement, and she stumbled out of her jeans and socks.
With a whoop, Gina launched herself clumsily into the air. She looked up breathless into the sky.
The daily thunderstorms were rolling in.
And just like that Gina came back to herself, suspended in the air over the sunken house, and she screamed as the enormity of what she’d committed herself to struck her like a sucker punch. Then she fell, the walls of the sinkhole lunging up to swallow her whole. She hit the clear water and sank halfway down to the house, then kicked up, heart pinballing around her chest. Just before she surfaced she saw the black mouth of the cave set in the wall of the sink, an equally black cable floating in front of its maw like some deep sea creature’s lure. Breaking the surface, she was set to beg Moira and Spring to break into a house and find some rope to haul her up when the other two girls hit the water on either side of her.
“Can’t do it,” Gina chattered, hating how her teeth were rattling despite the water’s warmth.
Even treading water was difficult with the sodden shirt pulling her down, but Gina was reluctant to take it off, even when she noticed the other girls were skinny-dipping. Spring usually wore a bikini instead of underwear for just such occasions, but not this time, apparently. Gina’s surprise at seeing them naked only distracted her from their predicament for a moment, before the horror of their situation reasserted itself. “Can’t do it. Can’t.”
“Sure you can,” said Spring. “You just…”
Then she was gone, flipping around and diving deep. She went into the cave without even bothering to grab the rope, and Gina groaned.
“This was your idea,” Moira said fiercely, dog-paddling over to Gina. “I figured you knew some other way out!”
“Noooo,” Gina felt herself getting sick, she was going to puke right here, but people couldn’t throw up and swim at the same time, could they? She was going to drown mid-puke and—.
“Easy as that!” Spring called from just above them, and Gina looked up to see Spring standing atop the buckled driveway, sleek and shining and outlined by the dirty brown clouds gathering at her back. “Hurry up, everyone out of the pool. Storm’s a-comin’!”
Moira laughed and splashed Gina, who could only tread water and gape up at Spring. It had only seemed like a couple of seconds since she dived down into the cave—she must have really lost her shit for a minute there. Gina felt her cheeks flush, and wondered how many people drowned because they wigged themselves out for no reason.
“I’m next!” said Moira, because Moira was always next, and Gina felt her fear return as her friend bobbed over to the edge of the sink above the cave.
“I just follow the rope, right?”
“All the way to the end, babe,” said Spring.
“Halfway through you come up in a cave, so take time to catch your breath there before you go the rest of the way. From there you should be able to see the light from the other cave, so just follow it out. But don’t let go of the rope, just in case!”
“Be careful,” said Gina, and then Moira was gone.
“I’ll wait for her over at the other end, make sure she doesn’t stay down too long,” said Spring, and before Gina could embarrass herself by asking Spring to stay with her instead, the other girl was gone. Gina began counting, both to take her mind off the fact that she was paddling above a house that was probably full of dead people and also to see how long it took Moira to pass through. Last time Spring had bothered timing them, Gina and Moira could both hold their breath for about a minute, so even if Moira rested for five at the halfway cave she should be out in seven…
At eight minutes, Gina began to freak out.
At nine, she was almost hyperventilating.
At halfway to ten, she started screaming for Spring, Moira, the cops, anyone.
And then Moira poked her head out from behind an oak at the lip of the sink, her teeth shining even in the half-light of the brewing storm. Spring emerged from the other side of the tree, her jacked-up smile also taunting Gina. At first Gina couldn’t say anything, then she didn’t want to. Neither Spring nor Moira said anything, just looked down at her as the raindrops began to dimple the water and thunder echoed from back out on the highway.
“Fuck you guys,” said Gina, meaning it like she’d never meant it before, and, shimmying out of the cloying shirt, she dived.
The rope was thick and slimy, but there didn’t seem to be much give on it. Staring into the darkness of the cave entrance, Gina felt the sudden need to kick back up and get another lungful or a hundred, maybe beg her friends to go for help…but then their condescending smiles flashed through her mind, and, closing her eyes, Gina sunk her fingernails into the rope and pulled herself into the cave.
Every time she pulled herself forward, Gina banged a shoulder or hip on slick stone, but the walls of the cave were never there for purchase when she tried to kick herself faster along. The air in her lungs turned bad and she pushed it out, trying not to let the reality of where she was and what she was doing take hold. Her chest went from tingling to hot to a furnace, and then she felt light-headed, her limbs itching. She was going to black out.
She swam faster, letting go of the rope and opening her eyes in the hope that she could catch some glint of daylight to make for. Instead, she saw a soft glow emanating from…a TV? She had drifted into a retro living room occupied by lounging skeletons in fish-eaten board shorts and bikinis watching a busted, waterlogged television. In the middle of this family, Spring and Moira sat on the couch, their hair floating above their faces like halos. Gina gasped and swallowed water, making her body convulse against this inevitable drowning. She jetted mute screams. She didn’t want to drown. She didn’t even want to dive in the first place. She—
Surfaced with a gasp. Gina coughed up water and gulped the stale, moist oxygen, reveling in the way it burned her lungs. She had made it. The halfway cave.
“Gina? Is that you?”
Gina’s legs and arms cramped at the sound of Moira’s voice. What the fuck was she doing here? Why would she swim back in—they could have collided in the dark, or become stuck, or—.
A faint light poured down with the rain pelting Gina’s face, and, with its illumination, she saw Moira treading water with a load. She was clinging to a vague lump of driftwood. Other than Moira and the undulating surface of the underground lake, Gina couldn’t see shit.
“Ginaaaaa!” Moira shrieked, her voice echoing in the shadows.
“It’s me,” Gina panted, paddling closer to Moira, and, it seemed, the light. “Why’d you swim back down?”
“What? Oh, God! What’s fucking happening?”
Moira splashed around, struggling with her make-shift buoy. She thrust it from her body, sobbing as it bobbed further into the light. Gina saw Spring’s hay-colored hair completely cleansed of its cherry-flavored dye, and then her friend’s face came into sight as the body slowly rotated in the water, revealing a bluish, bloated face.
“I found her as soon as I came up here, but what the fuck—she’s supposed to be up top! I saw her, she made it!” Moira’s voice broke, and Gina felt the panic in her friend’s voice infect her even as she looked away from the corpse, telling herself it wasn’t really there. They had both just seen Spring, and she was fine. Before Gina could reflexively tell Moira it was okay, even though it definitely wasn’t, something fell, splashing her in the face. Gina looked up and saw where the light was coming from: a small circle of pale light was above them, with two smaller circles of darkness limned against its border. Faces, peering down, the rain drizzling around them. Gina’s eyes burned, and, rubbing them with her knuckles, she squinted up. Spring looked down at her. Next to her was Moira, poised to throw another rock down.
“Spring? Moira?” Gina looked back to her friends and saw they were still in the water beside her, one treading water, the other…
Gina turned her eyes back to the hole above them.
She was in shock, that was what was up, somebody was fucking with them, and she was in shock, but that was no excuse to act stupid. She had to be practical.
“Look,” Gina called. “I don’t know who you fuckers are, but we’ve had enough of your bullshit. Throw us some rope! Call the cops! This isn’t funny anymore.” Gina paddled around, stretching her toes to find something solid to rest on. Nothing but warm water. She cocked her head up to petition their tormentors anew but choked when she saw another girl peek down the tunnel. It was herself; Gina waved down at Gina.
“Gina?” Moira whimpered.
“What?” Gina’s sudden dizziness caused her to sink completely under, and she surfaced clumsily, trying not to throw up. “What?! ”
“I think I know why Spring was so cold earlier.”
“Oh the fuck you do. You better keep swimming, Moira! You hear me? Swim until help comes.” Gina angrily splashed water onto Moira’s face, but the other girl didn’t even flinch, her eyes wide. She was clinging to Spring again, the drowned one, and her fingers were digging so deep into their friend’s pale shoulder that black ooze was leeching out.
“You bitches!” Gina yelled up the cave. “Who the fuck are you?!”
Spring, the Spring in the world above, where the rain fell but would stop in an hour, leaving everything steaming in the summer sunshine, laughed, and her laughter echoed and bounced off the water, rattling through Gina’s ears. The three girls disappeared, but Gina heard them singing Moira’s version of “Dive.” Gina, the real Gina, she told herself, joined in, trying to keep her shit together, but pretty soon she grew tired and just listened. The light was fading, or maybe the hole above them was receding, and Gina’s weary limbs barely carried her over to where Moira clung to Spring’s heavy, bobbing body.
“Dive! Dive! Dive! Dive with me!”
The singers grew distant, their song trailing away in the deepening dark, and then the cave went silent, save for the occasional splash and thrash from whatever was still alive within it. Up above, on the empty, desolate rim of the sink, the only sound was the pattering of rain on the surface of the water.
About the Authors
Jesse Bullington is the author of the weird historical novels The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, The Enterprise of Death, and The Folly of the World. Under the pen name Alex Marshall he released the Crimson Empire trilogy; the first book, A Crown for Cold Silver, was shortlisted for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. He’s also the editor of the Shirley Jackson Award nominated Letters to Lovecraft, and co-editor of Swords v. Cthulhu. His short fiction, reviews, and articles have appeared in such diverse publications as the LA Review of Books, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, and VICE. He can be found in the woods of North Carolina, or more ephemerally at his website (www.jessebullington.com).
Selena Chambers’ fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a variety of venues including Clarkesworld, The Non-Binary Review, Tor.com, Literary Hub, and Luna Luna Magazine. Her work has been nominated for Pushcart, Best of the Net, the Hugo, two World Fantasy awards, as well as a Colorado Book Award for Mechanical Animals, which she co-edited with Jason Heller for Hex Publishing. “Dr. Lambshead’s Dark Room” can be found in her debut story collection, Calls for Submission (Pelekinesis). To learn more about Selena, you can find her either on Twitter and IG as @BasBleuZombie, via her Tinyletter or on her website.
About the Narrator
New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a storm chaser, and a geek. Alethea narrates stories for Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders and contributes regular book reviews to NPR. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. She is host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more at aletheakontis.com